Struggle Ink Exhibition

Robben Island Museum

“Posters are not simply public notices. A public notice aims to inform or command. A poster aims to seduce, to exhort, to sell, to educate, to convince, to appeal. Whereas a public notice distributes information to interested or alert citizens, a poster reaches out to grab those who might otherwise pass it by. A public notice posted on a wall is passive… A poster claims attention – at a distance. It is visually aggressive.”  - Susan Sontag “The Art of Revolution – 96 Posters from Cuba”.

Posters can be a very beautiful form of propaganda. They are a very powerful way of conveying information, provided they are simple and to the point. And the posters issued by the democratic movement in South Africa have been very effective.   … One way in which we could see the effect of posters was the change in the perceptions and in the level of political consciousness of the young people who came to prison. ---Foreword by Nelson Mandela in “Images of Defiance”, a collection of South African Resistance Posters of the 1980s.
“When we have control over native education, I will reform it, so that natives will be taught from childhood that equality with Europeans is not for them.”   - Dr H. F. Verwoerd, Minister of Native Affairs, grand architect of Bantu Education, which was introduced in 1953. It marked the beginning of separate education in South Africa - in the 1970s, for every R1 spent on the education of a black child, R14 was spent on that of a white child.   In response to the inferior quality of Bantu Education alternative education structures, operating as non-governmental organizations emerged nationally in an effort to fill the void.   The South African Council for Higher Education (Sached), formed in the 1960s, focused on, among others, literacy, national and international history, politics, and social anthropology.   The Community Arts Project (CAP) was established in 1977 to enable and empower people interested in visual arts, music, drama and dance. It also offered computer literacy classes and broader general awareness programmes.
The widespread repression of the 80s unleashed a wave of cultural expression and activity that provided a source of strength, communication and resistance for the liberation movements.   One of the key activities of community-based organisations were to organise festivals to encourage creative writing, poster- and music-making, art, and participation in theatre productions.   Staging cultural events was also a means to raise funds to cover costs of running organizations and alternative media productions such as the Grassroots newspaper.   The declaration of states of emergency at various times, forced organisations to find new ways of avoiding the ban on public meetings. They did this through art festivals, music festivals, drama performances, house parties and poetry readings. These included: RAM (Rock Against Management), formed in the Western Cape in support of workers unfairly dismissed. One of the campaigns was a consumer boycott called against the Wilson-Roundtree sweet factory and fund-raisers were held to help retrenched workers.
Civic Action
The extensive state repression in the 1980s led to increased collaboration between the religious sector, non-government organisations (NGOs), unions, civic bodies and others to strengthen their collective power. Parents, teachers and students formed alliances, especially in the field of education, in response to increasingly repressive government crackdowns.   Political action took various forms: there were boycotts of shops and businesses seen to be supporting apartheid, “stay-aways” from schools, protest marches against the forced removals of people to black housing estates like Khayelitsha, and against high rental and poor housing.   Campaigns were waged to free detainees and to release political prisoners and to remember those who had been tortured, maimed, assassinated, sentenced to death and died in detention for their political convictions.
End Conscription
At the end of the 1960s, compulsory military conscription for all white males was introduced in South  Africa. By late 1983, the Black Sash civil liberties group publicly called for an end to compulsory conscription and in response, the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was formed. Its central demand was the right of conscripts to choose not to serve in the South African Defence Force (SADF).   The ECC was established as a coalition of many human rights, student, religious and women’s groups, all opposed to conscription and militarisation, and committed to working for a just peace in South Africa.   This stand was specifically linked to the role the SADF played in the country’s townships and in neighbouring states.   The ECC identified itself with the cause of the oppressed and sought to contribute to the struggle for liberation. It called for the withdrawal of the SADF from Namibia, Angola and South Africa’s townships. The ECC demanded an end to the increasing militarisation of all aspects of South African society and for conscientious objectors to have the right to do alternative national service.
Our Leaders
In the struggle against colonial rule, and later again apartheid, there have been exceptional men and women, young and old, who have made an invaluable contribution in fighting injustice so that one day and all South Africans would be free.   These outstanding people have come from all walks of like, from all over SA, from different cultures, difficult political persuasions. They were active in the trade unions, in women’s organisations, they were domestic workers, teachers, manual labourers, doctors, lawyers, housewives, students who stood unflinchingly facing the onslaught of an oppressive regime.   Some of these comrades were sentenced to long terms in prison and suffered at the hands of both prison warders and hardened common law prisoners. Others were tortured to death, brutally murdered and their bodies remain in unknown and unmarked graves.   There are those who were sentenced to death and hung; comrades had to flee the country, pursued by the police, and for many years had to endure living in exile, away from friends and families.
The exploitation of workers, particularly Black workers in South Africa has a long and sordid history. There was need, therefore, for these workers to stand together and fight for their rights. One of the first trade unions to organize African workers, the Industrial Workers Union (ICU), was formed by Clemence Kadalie and by 1919 had already gone on strike.   The Native Labour Act of 1953 stated that Africans could no longer be members of registered, mixed unions. They could join purely African trade unions, which could not be registered and could not go on strike. By 1955 the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu), a mixed union, had been formed.   According to the Bantu Labour Relations Act of 1973, legalized strikes could only take place under very stringent conditions. The Chemical Workers Industrial Union was formed in 1973 at a time when African workers were not allowed to belong to registered trade unions. This legislation was removed in 1979. Black union members jumped from 40,000 in 1975 to 247,000 in 1981, to 1 million in 1985.
Women & Children
The struggle for the emancipation of women from exploitation and oppression is universal.  Economic, social and cultural challenges have existed for all women within South African society. Black Women in particular faced new challenges and obstacles when the 1913 land Act became law and dispossessed all black South Africans of their land. This forced Black men to seek work in the cities and on the mines as migrant workers.  The burden of caring for the family  now fell solely on women and elderly men. As a result of this, women in the rural areas were living under appalling conditions, with little money to feed, clothe and educate their children.  In defiance of the law, many rural women flocked to the urban areas to be with their husbands. They also hoped to find work, schools for their children, clinics and hospitals.   As early as 1918, women formed the Bantu Women’s League of South Africa and organized campaigns to fight for women’s rights.   When the Nationalist Party came to power in 1948, the plight of women became worse.  They were now faced with forced removals, police brutality, inadequate housing, discrimination in the workplace, no protection as domestic workers or as farm labourers. In the 1950’s, when influx control and pass laws were introduced, women all over South Africa campaigned against Bantu Education, the pass laws and for other fundamental rights.  Not only did women play a role in resisting discriminatory laws which affected all South Africans, they also started looking at issues which affected them in particular: racial and sexual exploitation, unfair labour practice, better treatment at hospitals and maternity rights are examples of these.
Voter Education
On April, 27, 1994, South Africa held its first ever democratic national election to choose a new government and close the book on Apartheid and white minority rule. A programme of voter education was critical to ensure a free and fair election.   Non-governmental organisations came forward to offer their assistance. Lawyers for Human Rights drew up a Code of Conduct for people to follow; Project Vote produced posters that helped people to understand what was required of them and to encourage them to vote; the Legal Education Action Project and Community Arts Project, amongst many others, all assisted in educating and training voters. As a result of an extensive educational campaign led by civil society, political parties and the newly constituted Independent Electoral Commission, around 20 million people voted in the 1994 election - the first democratic, free and fair elections involving all citizens of the country.   In 1994 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was elected as the first president of a democratic Republic of South Africa.   These posters reflect the various educational campaigns implemented during the pre-election period.
Robben Island Museum
Credits: Story

Original Exhibition done by:
Lionel Davis
Hamilton Budaza
Raphael Hector
Deirdré Prins-Solani
Kurt van Vrede
James Makola
Graham Falken

Re-designed by Mortimer Daniels and Kurt van Vrede.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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